A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE FROM DISNEY MEDIA
Cynopsis Media presents:
Upfront 2012 - The Kids! Market
Good morning. It's Wednesday, March 21, 2012, and this is your first installment of this special series on this year's Upfront season.
Kids Upfront 2012
By Gwen Billings
UPFRONT PROGRAMMING TRENDS
In taking a look at what the major kid, tween and family-aimed networks have in store for the 2012-13 season -- and not all have held their upfront presentations yet (most notably Cartoon Network, which will hold its upfront on March 28) -- it appears that the next year in programming will be about building on what already works, making the most of viral hits, and revisiting classic brands and characters.
A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE FROM THE HUB
Here are the trends that we see unfolding in the year ahead:
It used to be, maybe 10-15 years ago, that networks for kids were about a place for kids to be like - a clubhouse - some place of their own. Then the kid-targeted networks, such as Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, extended their programming to include Tweens 9-14.
Now, according to network executives, co-viewing has entered the picture in such a way that the network experience invites the whole family to view together - especially Mom and the kids.
Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide, explains, "Co-viewing takes on a very different idea in non ad-supported networks (Disney Channel and Disney Junior). For those networks co-viewing is about creating trust between and enhancing the bond between parent and child."
TV networks underline that the concept of co-viewing continues to grow as an essential experience. This is particularly important as networks look to borrow on equity from the familiarity parents had as kids themselves watching the very same networks, and in some cases same shows and characters, in a positive 'everything old is new again' way.
For example, Nickelodeon has already brought back the Power Rangers franchise with Power Rangers Samurai and Power Rangers Super Samurai. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will return with a brand new CG series and Nickelodeon will also present new episodes of its 1990s game show Figure It Out.
Disney XD will premiere its new Marvel Universe programming block featuring classic characters such as Spider-Man, in the new series Ultimate Spider-Man, on April 1, and will also debut Pac-Man - The Adventure Begins in the coming season.
The Hub is also reviving franchises with new versions of Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot and Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters based on the Duel Masters property.
Margaret Loesch, President and CEO, The Hub TV Network, confirms the importance of co-viewing. She told Cynopsis: Kids!, "Yes. We are purposely re-imagining heritage brands which adults will welcome since they were fans themselves when they were kids. But we also want to make sure our re-imaginings of these nostalgic brands are relevant and compelling and engaging to today's kids. Thus, we focus on good storytelling that captures children's imaginations without 'talking down' to kids -- that also enhances our stories' all-family appeal."
A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE FROM SPROUT
And Cartoon Network, which features multiple iconic brands such as Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry and The Looney Tunes Show, has recently added hour-long DC Nation block, showcasing classic DC Comics characters, including Green Lantern and Young Justice.
Stuart Snyder, President and COO, Turner's Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media emphasizes that "But first and foremost the whole thing for us is we are a network that is there to entertain kids- but we have pockets and places where there is co-viewing, of course. For us there are a few key areas, one is our Flicks franchise, which is our movies franchise, where we do very well from a co-viewing standpoint - where kids are watching with parents. We've also seen co-viewing very well in regards to some of our comedies."
As for classic brands on Cartoon Network, Snyder says, "I think that there are brands like - Scooby Doo has been on our network in different transformations over the years - Tom & Jerry the same thing, so we've been doing this - it isn't for us a new phenomena - we've been doing this for quite a long time."
The Qubo Channel, which will debut 16 new animated and live-action acquired series over the course of 2012 and 2013, also looks to classic franchises as it plans to air the animated series Where On Earth is Carmen Sandiego beginning this spring. The animated series is based on the iconic series of educational Carmen Sandiego computer and video games created by Broderbund Software, and will therefore likely draw co-viewing opportunities. Qubo Channel will also feature classic properties this fall 2012, when it adds the animated series Archie's Weird Mysteries, based on the Archie Comics, and Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.
Not to be naive, co-viewing also can provide another opportunity for advertisers, particularly if they know Mom and/or Dad are sitting there watching with the kids.
Disney's Marsh says, "I'm not selling the 18-49 adult woman demo to anybody in particular, I mean yes we do have sponsorships that we do on both those networks, but for me co-viewing is not about that. It's really about letting parents know and understand the strengths, the creativity, the optimistic spirit, the trustworthiness of what's on our channels." Does co-viewing enter into how Disney markets its shows? Marsh explains for Disney XD, which is an ad-supported network, "It is always there in the back of our minds, but because it is not a primary revenue driver of our business it is slightly lower down the rung of priorities. At the end of the day if I'm not delivering my 6-14-year-old kids, it doesn't matter how many adults are watching."
For The Hub, Loesch says, "We are first and foremost a kids' network, putting kids first. However, because we have so many heritage brands with strong nostalgic appeal to adults, we recognize the opportunity to attract kids and adult audiences. We try to market the strong attributes of our shows, which inherently engage kids 2-11 and 6-11 and Adults 18-49 in those households. Clearly, our ad sales opportunities are enhanced by being able to sell advertising to adults as well as to kids."
STAYING WITH WHAT WORKS
Consider current TV series like Disney Channel's Shake It Up, which follows the adventures of two girls who star as background dancers of a local TV series, and the newer Austin & Ally, about the unlikely friendship between total opposites teens, one a songwriter and the other a singer. Or, Nickelodeon's Victorious, in which an aspiring teen singer attends a high school for the performing arts. Or, Big Time Rush, which follows the adventures of four friends from the Midwest tapped to become a new boy band. Or, the network's newest entry How to Rock (based on the book How to Rock Braces) about a teen once in a "mean girl" band who was then ostracized by them and is now the lead singer of a band of other kids.
These tween-targeted programs mostly are comedies with characters who have reasons to sing, dance and be involved with music as they try it through the everyday trials and tribulations of being a kid. The music doesn't simply come out of nowhere - it's integral to the storyline.
This concept isn't new. Look at Disney Channel's Hannah Montana and its original TV movies such as High School Musical, Cheetah Girls and Camp Rock, as well as Nickelodeon's Roundhouse. These shows, of course, were preceded by the original Mickey Mouse Club, The Partridge Family and The Monkees.
Demonstrating this is still a successful genre, both networks announced new music-themed series at their upfronts last week. Nickelodeon showcased its new original TV movie musical, Rags - a spin on a Cinderella story about a boy who dreams of becoming a singer, living with his unloving stepdad and spoiled stepbrothers. The network also ordered further seasons of Big Time Rush and Victorious.
Meanwhile, Disney Channel will debut two new music-infused original TV movies, Teen Beach Musical, about two kids transported into a classic surf movie musical, and Let It Shine, a modern day Cyrano de Bergerac story featuring hip-hop, rap and gospel music. In addition, Shake It Up: Made In Japan, is based on the Shake It Up series. Disney is also picking up new seasons of Austin & Ally. And Disney Channel also has at least one other teen musical series in the works, Zombies and Cheerleaders (working title), a musical-infused series about what happens when the walking dead try to get along with the in-group in high school.
From the Disney Channel perspective, Marsh says, "What I have tasked our team to do is to take everything they know about what we've done in the past, and everyone else has done in the past, and re-invent it." Marsh added, "If we keep re-inventing things like that, I don’t think that there's a saturation point, in fact, I think just the opposite, I think people will be surprised and challenged and engaged to wanna see what the next incarnation is of our next music driven properties are."
PROGRAM IDEAS FROM NEW PLACES
Historically, lots of kids TV shows that didn't originate from original ideas came from books, comic books, animated shorts and so forth.
While those are all still important sources of new programming, today there is this thing called the internet -- and, of course, there are reality shows, video games, apps and all sorts of new places to look for ideas.
Nickelodeon has found success in the Fred character, created by Lucas Cruikshank (a teen at the time) who, with his cousins in Nebraska, produced a series of Fred videos, which went on to become a viral hit with its own YouTube channel. The character was brought to the network, which then ordered one original movie and then another, both successful. This led to the newly-launched Fred: The Show. At the upfront Nickelodeon revealed it has ordered additional episodes of the Fred: The Show and a third Fred TV movie.
Nickelodeon has also signed a talent deal with Rachel Crow, the young teen girl who was eliminated from The X Factor, and is developing a series for her. Nickelodeon also announced it will launch the new CG animated physical comedy Raving Rabbids, which is based on Ubisoft's eponymous video game.
Cartoon Network is currently at work on a new TV series based on the popular web-based series, The Annoying Orange, created by Dane Boedigheimer, and it will likely premiere this year. It's about an anthropomorphic orange that basically annoys other produce and objects.
For Cartoon Network, Snyder says, "You know, The Annoying Orange is an example of something that was very popular already. What we should always be doing is looking for something that may not be very popular - but something that may be so interesting to us - that we think has some big potential - that’s part of our DNA as well."
This isn't the first time Cartoon Network has turned to the web for a project. The network has just announced a fourth season of its popular animated series, Adventure Time (previously titled Adventure Time with Finn and Jake), which was originally produced by Frederator for its Nickelodeon series Random! Cartoons. The short became a viral hit online and Cartoon Network picked it up as a series.
Network schedules still feature considerable amounts of animated programming, in a variety of genres: 2D, flash, CG, mixed media, among others. It is an area that kids, tweens and families are very open to watching.
Face it - we all loved Bugs Bunny endlessly taunting Elmer Fudd, Scooby-Doo and the gang discovering the strange old man on the wharf was the culprit, and Tommy Pickles inspiring his playpen pals to have the courage to see what was on the other side of the hedge.
Modern day audiences are very accepting of just about any animation style as long as the script has compelling characters and stories. Whether it's stick figures, cut-out characters, stop-motion, computer generated or something they haven't even thought of yet.
To this end, The Hub, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Disney XD are all introducing new series in various animation styles.
At Nick's upfront, Cyma Zarghami, President of Viacom’s Nickelodeon Group, said, "Animation has been at the core of our brand for many years. It fuels our business here and around the globe. One of the [animated] projects we are very excited about is The Legend of Korra - a sequel to our series Avatar: The last Airbender."
And Marsh told Cynopsis: Kids!, "What I'm excited about in terms of our slate [animation] is the diversity of looks - so starting with the most intricate, if you will, Disney XD's Tron: Uprising ... it is unlike anything else that has ever been done for television animation."
In terms of other animation styles, Marsh says Disney is exploring. "But, we're also looking at shows that have vinyl animation," he explained. "Basically, vinyl puppets in a live-action backdrop, a project that we are developing with Wild Brain." He added, "We haven't done stop-motion lately, but we have a project we are developing with Aardman to do stop-motion animation as well. So, I'm excited by the breadth of animation opportunities."
Live-action dramas are relatively few and far between for kids and tweens.
The Hub has just announced its new live action drama/thriller - Spooksville, based on the young adult book series by Christopher Pike. Spooksville follows the new kid in town who discovers that he holds the key to solving centuries-old battle between good and evil. The Hub has had earlier success in this genre with R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour, which launched with the network in fall 2010.
I asked The Hub's Loesch about new potential dramas, she explained "Actually, we do not get pitched lots of ideas in this space, because they are hard to write and produce -- especially because of the care we have to give the content (no sexual innuendos, inappropriate violence or over-the-top gore). Also, because of the more limited budgets of kids' television (as opposed to adult primetime dramas). I've always been a fan of the scary genre, having recalled my own childhood of loving to be scared while watching (TV and movies) from a safe place."
Nickelodeon's upcoming primetime live-action telenovela Hollywood Heights (f/k/a Reach for a Star), is a co-production with Televisa (Mexico). The series is a daily soap opera with multiple teen characters and storylines. Nickelodeon has had success with dramas throughout its history, including its current mystery drama series House of Anubis on Nick-at-Nite, as well as the high school soap Degrassi on TeenNick.
Not to be overlooked, there is drama in the animation space, such as Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the upcoming Disney XD series Tron: Uprising, Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra, and The Hub's Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, among others.
A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE
TWO MORE THOUGHTS
Remaining a staple in the kid TV arena are comedies, both animated and live-action, including The Hub's animated program The Littlest Pet Shop, Nickelodeon's upcoming animated sires Monsters vs. Aliens and Robot & Monster, and its live action series Marvin Marvin, as well as Disney Channel's new animated series Wander Over Yonder and Gravity Falls, and Disney XD's forthcoming animated show Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, and no doubt several to be announced by Cartoon Network next week, not to mention the many new seasons of returning comedies on all the networks.
Additionally, it is safe to say that in the new digital, multi-screen world in which we now live is a reality and more than a trend -- a show is never just a show anymore. A show can't exist without promotional support on the web, a web-page, a series-based video game, streaming VOD and instant downloads, and apps, behind-the-scenes footage, or a soundtrack where possible.
Cartoon Network's Snyder underlines the importance of the network's website, "Kids are going to CartoonNetowrk.com and they have really connected with content and clips - but gaming is really important to our audience - and we're delivering that for them."
Zarghami, at the upfront, says Nick bases everything on three principles. "First and most important is that great content, characters and stories remain at the center of great entertainment. And second, audiences will always lead the way to new ideas and new talent. And finally, brands with real equity survive and thrive in times of change."
Loesch of The Hub believes that, as much as things change, they also stay the same. "Kids today are not that different from kids from previous generations, although they do seem to be growing older a bit faster! Kids today still love what we did as kids - they love to laugh, to be scared, to be swept away on an adventure. They love to have their imaginations stimulated. They love being engaged by and immersed in great storytelling. They love to be stimulated to act out their own stories, compelled to do so often by what they've watched on television."
That the creators of kid, tween and family-aimed programming are daring to go to new platforms and outlets for ideas and partnerships means that the kid TV business is strong and continuing to evolve. That is all good for the business and for viewers, taking chances is what drives us forward to new successes. Could there be a new tentpole franchise, or maybe more, in the mix among the new programming? There sure could be.
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Gwen Billings for Cynopsis
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